‘Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs’ – The Movie Doomed to Fail Even Before Release9 min readReading Time: 7 minutes
In July 2019, South Korean animation studio Locus Corporation released their twist on the beloved Snow White fairytale, titled Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarves. Despite an all-star English cast and a team of experienced animators, the film was almost doomed to fail even before it hit the big screen.
It was made on a budget of $20 million but only earned $9.7 million at the box office as a result of catastrophic advertising. The irony is that the film was wildly misrepresented and turned out to be the total opposite of what its advertisements made it out to be.
Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs is South Korean animation studio Locus Corporation’s debut film. The team was far from amateur, however. Directing the animation was Kim Jin who also worked on massive Disney hits including Big Hero 6, Frozen, and Tangled. Geoff Zanelli wrote the music for the film and previously scored other notable titles such as Hitman (2007), Outlander, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Even the English cast was star-studded, seeing the likes of Chloë Grace Moretz in its lead role alongside Sam Claflin, Gina Gershon, Patrick Warburton, and Jim Rash.
Everything seemed like a strong start for Locus Animation, but the fate of Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs took a quick turn for the worst. This is the story of how puzzling marketing decisions derailed and destroyed Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs.
The Advertising and the Backlash
The film might not sound familiar to many, but perhaps the controversy surrounding it might ring a bell. In 2017, advertisements for the film were shown at Cannes Marche du Film to promote it leading up to its release. The posters were first spotted by journalists at the festival who shared photos of them on Twitter.
The controversy went on to gain widespread attention when plus-size model and outspoken body-positivity activist Tess Holliday also shared the photos of the film’s posters on her own Twitter account, going so far as to tag Chloë Grace Moretz, who voices the lead character Snow White.
The posters, which read: “What if Snow White was no longer beautiful, and the 7 dwarfs not so short?”, quickly went viral with many saying it was “fat-shaming” and enforced negative insinuations towards short and chubby girls. One Twitter user called the advertisement “the epitome of what I don’t want my kids to see”, while others called it “offensive” and “terrible”.
The strong backlash prompted Moretz herself to speak up and in a string of tweets she explained that she too was “appalled” by the marketing and the posters were not representative of the movie’s true message.
I have now fully reviewed the mkting for Red Shoes, I am just as appalled and angry as everyone else, this wasn’t approved by me or my team— Chloë Grace Moretz (@ChloeGMoretz) May 31, 2017
Pls know I have let the producers of the film know. I lent my voice to a beautiful script that I hope you will all see in its entirety https://t.co/IOIXYZTc3g— Chloë Grace Moretz (@ChloeGMoretz) May 31, 2017
The actual story is powerful for young women and resonated with me. I am sorry for the offense that was beyond my creative control https://t.co/HZP2ydPCAX— Chloë Grace Moretz (@ChloeGMoretz) May 31, 2017
One of the film’s producers, Sujin Hwang, subsequently apologised on behalf of Locus and announced that the marketing campaign had been terminated.
But not only had the damage been done, the teaser trailer added more fuel to the fire. If accusations of fat-shaming were not enough, the trailer managed to anger audiences further with its sexual undertones. It depicts two of the dwarfs sneaking into Snow White’s room and peeping at her while she undresses slowly and seductively. Audiences criticised the trailer for needlessly sexualising a female cartoon character while also questioning how this was deemed appropriate for children. The trailer was swiftly taken down and now only exists in old news archives and reuploads by other internet users.
All of this bad press, one after another, almost certainly ensured that everyone on the Internet knew to stay away from this movie. Fast forward to the movie’s release, reception was quiet and Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs seemed more forgettable than its own marketing.
Did Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs deserve all the hate? Was it really the disaster that its marketing made it out to be? I sat down to watch the film for myself and I was pleasantly surprised.
The Actual Film was… Fine?
Now, Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs is not exactly the next Frozen or Tangled, but credit where credit’s due — the film was actually trying to promote a good message.
The story is pretty straightforward and has all your usual fairytale tropes with some twists. We meet Snow White, a princess searching for her lost father, the king. She discovers her evil stepmother’s magical tree which grows apples that transform into shoes. When worn, the shoes give eternal youth and beauty. She wears the shoes and transforms into a slender, wide-eyed version of herself. As she flees, her stepmother is hot on her heels in pursuit but she manages to escape.
After fleeing, Snow White bumps into the seven dwarfs, who are actually a group of super-powered princes who have been transformed into short, green dwarfs by a curse. The princes, who can only break the curse by being kissed by the most beautiful woman in the world, believe Snow White is the answer and thus agree to help her find her father.
As Snow White quickly realises that people around her are now kinder and more helpful towards her due to her appearance, she assumes the identity of “Red Shoes” and conceals her true form from the dwarfs.
While this might sound like it’s headed in the wrong direction, bear with me. Snow White’s decision to remain in her magical form is not driven by vanity, rather she sees society’s double standards when she is her normal self versus when she is transformed. Throughout the film, she mentions how she misses her old form because she was stronger and felt more true to herself. She champions inner beauty over outer beauty — which is a good message to hear from our protagonist.
Although the message is a little nuanced for kids, the film definitely tries to depict its vain characters as the ones who are in need of a transformation. Of course, there is the obvious example of the stepmother, who is willing to use evil methods to obtain eternal youth and beauty.
But there is another character whose growth is more subtle but a key point of the story. The leader of the dwarfs, Merlin, yearns for his old self as he valued his looks and built his self-worth upon his appearance. When Snow White reveals her true appearance to him, he initially struggles to accept her and has an internal conflict as the two bonded over their feelings of being trapped in their new forms.
He stands in direct contrast to Snow White and represents the unhealthy and shallow beliefs that Snow White is fearful of seeing in other people. His growth during the film attempts to redeem him as a character and show that people can change their views on what beauty really is and showing how much greater it is to value inner beauty.
And remember that scene from the teaser trailer? Nothing even remotely close to that happens in the movie. I did not spot a single innuendo and when I look back now, it feels like that teaser was taken from a different movie. If the scene from the trailer was ever meant to be in the film, it’s clear that the filmmakers hit the reset button because the characters were given new designs.
Audiences were justified in their reactions towards the advertisements, and if the film turned out to be just as catastrophic as depicted, then it deserved to be the commercial flop it turned out to be. After watching the film, I can’t help but feel bad for Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs. While it is far from perfect, it is also obvious that the filmmakers were trying to create a positive message here.
Chloë Grace Moretz herself has struggled with her image and eating habits and has opened up about how the pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty standards from a young age affected her mental health. This feels like all the more reason to believe that the movie was created with genuine and good intentions.
The film’s marketing placed its importance on Snow White’s outer beauty when the film itself placed the importance on Snow White’s inner beauty. I doubt we will ever know why the marketing team decided to take the direction that they did with the advertising, and how on earth those posters were ever approved. On the surface, Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarves definitely raises eyebrows, but with better planning the film might have at least stood a chance. It serves as a great example of the power of marketing, especially when it comes to film.
Any film with a theatrical release these days cuts a fair portion of its budget out for marketing, and it can be what brings people to the film or turns people away. It’s the difference between making back the film’s budget and flopping at the box office. Audiences usually don’t walk into cinemas blind when they decide to watch a movie. That two hours in the cinema is a result of all the trailers they have watched, posters they have seen, or advertisements they have interacted with. Let Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs be a reminder of this and let’s hope it will be the last time we see a good film be doomed by puzzling marketing decisions.